Category Archives: Nativity

His pity toward thee wondrous high.

Nativity

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

-John Donne

Nativity.0

At the dark dream of the year.

I am learning to live, glory to God — though I’d never thought of it just that way until reading this poem. Its allusions to giving birth I can relate to, though I’m thankful I was able to accomplish the material form of that work when I was in the “glory of the flesh,” young and strong. Now that I am in the autumn of my life, now is when as a widow I have to rise to the less tangible demands, which before I had thought of more as a re-creation than a rebirth.

cardinal-ornament

It used to be that January was the dark dream of the year for me, but judging from the last few weeks, I think that in the years to come the ramp-up to Christmas might prove to be the season when it’s hardest to stay tuned to Christ’s birth in me, as He,

At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins…

Maybe it’s a stretch to apply these metaphors to my situation. But all the traditions of getting ready for Christmas — the planning for gifts, the shopping and cooking and decorating, Christmas caroling, all in a context of wood fires and sweeping of leaves and walks on brisk mornings — I have to learn to live on my own now. “Everything changes,” and I have been born into a new and strange existence. The natural impulse is to wish to sleep ever and to dream of springtimes past.

But as Christ is born in me moment by moment, I’m the farthest possible from “on my own.” If I could live in this reality, truly live in Him, instead of in the unreality of memories that are phantoms (human beings themselves can never fall into the category of Memories), it would be a constant breaking out in a glorious freedom that encompasses calm and warmth and joy, the fullness of God. I’m in the process — I am being born, ever so slowly:

To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way

It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand…

I feel that I could feed off this rich poem for the next several months! It is a great gift to me; I hope you enjoy it, too. May your Advent waiting be fruitful.

scout-angel-chimes-12-14

CHRISTMAS AND COMMON BIRTH

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: We should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.

And each year
In seasonal growth is good — year
That lacking love is a stale story at best
By God’s birth
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

-Anne Ridler

 

(Bottom photo by Pippin)

On behalf of Eve she repaid the debt.

I don’t think many of us will be reading blogs on Christmas morning, so I offer this meditation a little early, from a Christmas homily of very long ago, found here.

It was fitting that the Giver of all holiness should enter this world by a pure and holy birth. For He it is that of old formed Adam from the virgin earth, and from Adam without help of woman formed woman. For as without woman Adam produced woman, so did the Virgin without man this day bring forth a man. For it is a man, saith the Lord, and who shall know him [Jer. 17:9]. For since the race of women owed to men a debt, as from Adam without woman woman came, therefore without man the Virgin this day brought forth, and on behalf of Eve repaid the debt to man.Nativity.0

That Adam might not take pride, that he without woman had engendered woman, a Woman without man has begotten man; so that by the similarity of the mystery is proved the similarity in nature. For as before the Almighty took a rib from Adam, and by that Adam was not made less; so in the Virgin He formed a living temple, and the holy virginity remained unchanged. Sound and unharmed Adam remained even after the deprivation of a rib; unstained the Virgin though a Child was born of her.

+ St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”

Do you wonder where Joseph is? Orthodox icons don’t show him in the typical western setting of the birth of Christ. You can find out about any unfamiliar elements of this picture from Iconreader in his post about the Nativity icon.